Unilateral vs Bilateral Training…. what the hell does that even mean?” – most of the population

Listen, sometimes we get carried away in the fitness industry as Personal Trainers with fancy words to make ourselves sound smart. Simply put, Unilateral means 1 arm/leg is working, Bilateral mean both are working. See, nothing crazy (Free Bonus to the first person who can guess what Contralateral is in the comments!)

However, it is important to include BOTH styles of training into our workouts, and here’s why:

Many of us when we are training our legs, will focus primarily on exercises like squats, deadlifts, leg press, leg extensions, leg curls, and calves. (If I just named your entire lower body workout, you owe me a coke). In this circumstance you can see, that all of these exercises require both legs working at the same time (bilateral exercises). Which isn’t a bad thing, but if that’s what we are exclusively doing, we may run into future problems. Let me explain…

We don’t move around on a day-to-day basis with our legs working at the same time (imagine everyone hopping everywhere they went). When we walk, we are actually performing a Unilateral movement. This is the same for when we run, hike, bike or any other movement to get from point A to point B. This is why it’s important to also train unilaterally with exercises like lunges, step ups/downs, and single leg work. This ensures the hips ability to move separately so we can move effectively, and pain-free.

The benefits of exercising unilaterally include – increasing balance & stability, as well as ensuring both sides of the body are doing an equal amount of work (which helps prevent or improve muscle imbalances).

That doesn’t mean we should totally skip out on Bilateral training. Bilateral training also has benefits, as we can typically lift more weight with both limbs working in unison and we get more direct muscle contractions as there is less stability required. Both sides are also working simultaneously, opposed to individually preventing any pre-exhaustion in the muscles (example – when doing a lunge, even if you are focused on the right leg, the left leg is still working to some degree which will make it more tired when it’s time to focus on the left).

There are benefits and set-back to both styles of training, however it’s important to implement both for maximal benefits. Depending on your goals you may lean more towards one than the other, but it’s always important to balance out your training routine to ensure we build muscle, burn body fat, and live a pain-free life.

So, if any of that went completely over your head, or you want to learn how to implement a more balanced bilateral/unilateral workout routine contact RK Athletics today and let’s chat more in-depth. Check out the other blog posts for more free resources, and learn more about Personal Training in Edmonton or Online Coaching here.


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